Tag Archives: politics

Pesach and Freedom

So yesterday I was reading an article about how Obama has a seder night every year. Despite not being Jewish, he connects to it, because Pesach is the story of slaves being freed from hundreds of years of slavery. The Exodus from Egypt is more than just a single people being freed. It represents many different people’s stories. The plight of every slave that ever lived. And the hope that one day he will be free and free of his tormenters.

What annoyed me in the article, is that the article then went on to speak about the Palestinians one day going free and that the idea of the Palestinians being free is in fact a very Jewish idea and we should do all that we can in order to give them full autonomy.

Now, I have no problem with Palestinian autonomy. I do have a problem when Palestinian autonomy causes harm to innocent Israelis. To imply that Israelis do not want peace and that Israel is enslaving Palestinians is ridiculous in my opinion and you only have to visit Israel to know that isn’t true.

For 65 years we’ve been trying to make this two-state solution work. The Palestinians had ample opportunity to accept. Israel accepted the UN partition plan in 1947. It was the Arabs that went to war with Israel. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, it was not Israel that was the aggressor, it was our Arab neighbours.

People still talk about the “two-state solution” as if it’s a solution. IMO it isn’t and we’ve been wasting too much energy trying to solve this problem. We should try and live side by side as best as possible, but there are just to many issues that cannot be solved (such as major security concerns, hundreds of thousands of people being kicked out of their homes and many others).

But whatever you think about the road to peace, the Palestinians are not in slavery. Yes, there are security checks for bringing things into the West Bank and Gaza. There are check points all over the West Bank to stop weapons smuggling. And there is a wall surrounding the Palestinian areas stopping them from entering Israel. Would it be nicer for them if these obstacles weren’t there? Yes. But they’re for a reason. The number of suicide bombings within Israel has basically dropped to zero over the last few years. A dramatic decrease, but all thanks to the security fence. I’m sure it’s a bit of a hassle being checked every time you drive through a check point, but frankly, the same thing happens to me at the airport and we even have security check points on the roads in Israel. There’s a reason for that. To stop terrorism.

We’ll have peace when the Palestinians and the Arab world in general come to the conclusion that there is a Jewish state and it is here to stay.

So happy Pesach to you. Freedom is both a Jewish and universal value and I hope in the future we’ll see a peaceful Middle East, but it would be naive to say that day will come soon.

Pesach sameach

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Two Israeli Documentaries Nominated for 2013 Oscar

The two nominated documentaries are 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers.

I watched 5 Broken Cameras today. It’s a documentary filmed by a Palestinian living in the village of Bilin which is close to Modi’in Illit. It was produced together with Israeli producer Guy Davidi.

Definitely an interesting documentary. As a citizen of Israel, it gives you some insight into the lives of some of the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria and what they think about Israel.

The documentary only shows a small part of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It doesn’t show the more violent Palestinians such as Hamas and other terrorist organizations, but it does show you many Palestinians would have grown up and why they would go on to join terrorist organizations such as Hamas. In the documentary you see the camera man Emad Burnat’s son ask him why he doesn’t kill the Israeli soldiers with his knife. Emad answers that he would be shot if he did.

Emad seems to be a genuinely peaceful person. I don’t think he would want to stab a soldier even if he knew he could get away with it. Many of his fellow Palestinians are also fairly peaceful in their protests and I would also add, that despite the many years of clashes between the Palestinian protesters and the soldiers, the clashes are relatively peaceful. People are shot over the years, injured and killed. The clashes are often violent, but it is mostly on the level of people being arrested and pushing each other around.

What did stand out for me when I watched the documentary was that Israel is never defended. The Palestinians don’t seem to understand why the barrier was put up by Israel. I understand that the barrier is there to stop terrorists entering Israel, but Emad and his friends don’t. Since the barrier has been put up, the number of terrorist attacks in Israel has dropped dramatically. Before the barriers were put up, attacks were a fairly common occurrence. Buses were blown up left, right and center. Suicide bombings were common. Nowadays, terrorist attacks are much rarer. The main threat being rocket fire from Gaza. The barrier has prevented many potential suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks.

The barrier isn’t there to stop Emad’s son going to the beach. It’s there to save lives and it does that. Sometimes at the expense of others.

Apart from protests against the security fence, the other major complaint of the Palestinians is that Israel stole their land. They protest the building of new apartment blocks in Modi’in Illit. They believe this land to be theirs and Israeli building frustrates them. I can understand this frustration and it’s complicated topic with a long history.

Overall, I thought the documentary was interesting and important for me to watch. I’ll admit I’m slightly surprised it was nominated for an Oscar. I do think the documentary was very one-sided and made no attempt to explain the other side.

The second Israeli documentary up for an Oscar award, The Gatekeepers (or Shomrei Hasaf in Hebrew), I have not yet seen. It is about six Shin Bet (Israeli intelligence) heads. Perhaps this gives a bit of Israel’s side of the story in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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Building in E1

I personally don’t understand what the big fuss is about. Firstly, we’re nowhere near this supposed two-state solution that will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas still wants all of Israel to become Palestine. A large percentage of the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Secondly, even if we were ever to have this two-state “solution”, Israel would not give up sovereignty over Jerusalem. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and will remain Israel’s capital. In any potential two-state solution, Jerusalem would remain Israel’s undivided capital.

So I really don’t understand why it’s so bad that Israel is building in E1 and in areas where no Palestinians are currently living. E1 will not be part of a Palestinian state and neither will Gush Etzion, Ramat Shlomo or anywhere else Israel is building.

Lastly, I don’t think this two state solution has any chance of working within the next twenty years, whether Israel builds or not. The Palestinians have to change their attitude towards Israel if they want a state. Yes… I am pinning this on the Palestinians. I think 99% of Israelis would happily live in peace with our neighbours. We have nothing to gain by starting wars with our neighbours. Any wars we ever get into are about self-defence. No Western country wants to be in a war with any other country. They have nothing to gain from it apart from defending themselves. It’s up to the Arab world to change it’s attitude. I don’t know how long this will take. It may never happen. But that is the root of the problem. You can’t be at peace with people that don’t want it.

(And lastly, I’m sure there are many people in these Arab countries that would prefer to have no wars and would rather develop their countries instead of being in constant turmoil and focusing their efforts on acquiring weapons, but sadly, these people are either the minority or are the ones without power.)

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Netanyahu On The Meaning And Mission Of Israel And Jewish Destiny

Good article by the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein at Aish.com:

http://www.aish.com/jw/me/Bibi–the-Bible.html

BTW, this blog has no connection to Netanyahu. I just think he’s a great leader.

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The Gift of Morality

A room-mate of mine has a university book on the shelf named Great Political Thinkers: From Plato to the Present written by Alan and William Ebenstein. I haven’t read the book, although it does look very interesting. I have read the first chapter which is a sort of introduction to the book. In this introduction the authors have some very kind words about the impact of the Jews on western civilization.

The authors argue that the three pillars of western civilization are the belief in reason, monotheism and ethics, and love. Reason from the Greeks, monotheism and ethics from the Jews and love from the Christians. That love comes from Christianity sounds like a slightly strange claim to me. You can read the passage below to see exactly what they mean and judge for yourself.

This must surely be the greatest Jewish achievement of all time. I have posted a lot in the past about Jewish nobel laureates, billionaires, musicians, entertainers, chess players and more. Jews have accomplished great things in the modern era; far, far beyond what one would expect from such a small people. Many of the Jews I post about have made tremendous contributions to the world. The world would look very different today if it were not for people like Einstein, Marx or Freud (for good or for bad). But ultimately, these are not the most important things in life. Being a good person and living a moral life is far more important than any number of medals, awards or the amount of money in one’s bank account. So for the Jewish people to be identified with bringing ethics and morality to the western world – I think this is the Jewish people’s greatest achievement and as always, it is quite remarkable the enormous influence such a historically small people has had on world history.

Lastly, I will add that monotheism and morality go hand in hand. It is difficult to conceive of a true value to morality without the existence of a personal God. This doesn’t mean that God exists or that morality has an objective reality. One could believe in neither or both. I personally believe in both. This doesn’t mean that an atheist cannot be a moral person either. One can be a highly moral person, irrelevant of whether he believes in objective morality or not. A lot has been written about the sources of morality and it is a highly debated topic, but I agree with the statement commonly attributed to Dostoevsky “If God does not exist, everything is permitted”. There’s a bit of a debate whether Dostoevsky said this or not. I don’t really care though. Either way I think the statement is true. You may be put in prison for breaking the law, but ultimately that’s not for doing something objectively wrong, if we assume the non-existence of God.

And this brings us to my current, favourite two verses in Scripture. Jeremiah 9:22-23:

כב כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל חָכָם בְּחָכְמָתוֹ, וְאַל-יִתְהַלֵּל הַגִּבּוֹר, בִּגְבוּרָתוֹ; אַל-יִתְהַלֵּל עָשִׁיר, בְּעָשְׁרוֹ.  כג כִּי אִם-בְּזֹאת יִתְהַלֵּל הַמִּתְהַלֵּל, הַשְׂכֵּל וְיָדֹעַ אוֹתִי–כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה בָּאָרֶץ:  כִּי-בְאֵלֶּה חָפַצְתִּי, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.

22 Thus saith the LORD: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; 23 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD who exercise mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.

Here’s the entire passage from Great Political Thinkers (bold added by me):

The questions we have to answer are, what is so essential about the structure of western civilization that, were it removed, the whole whole building would collapse or at least require overall reconstruction rather than patchwork repairs; and, on what principles are its ethical, legal, economic, social, and political structures founded? It is difficult to know what is fundamental, because every aspect calls for attention. We shall find the roots of western civilization and its political theories when, in going back into the past, we reach a point beyond which it is either impossible or impractical to inquire. This process will allow us to sift the enduring from the ephemeral, the essential from the incidental, and the fundamental from the decorative.

We know that reason, the belief in reason, and the use of reason are not inventions of the twentieth century. Immediately, one recalls the great Age of Reason or Enlightenment which reached a peak in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France and irradiated throughout the entire western world. Yet, we know France did not invent the cult of reason – rationalism as a way of life – and so we go back and back until we finally find the origin: the sixth-century B.C. Greece.

It is true, of course, that the Greeks did not start from scratch – various Oriental peoples influenced them. Nevertheless, Greek civilization, as it imprinted itself on much of the world, was original; it was not derived from any earlier people in the same direct way in which other peoples borrowed some of their basic ideas from the Greeks.

The second root of the west is the Jewish belief in one God (monotheism), with the resulting concepts of the brotherhood of mankind (all men and women being children of the same Father) and of one world ruled by a higher law which is above human whim and arbitrariness. Again, it can be shown that some other nations “came close” to the concept of one God before the Jews did. But just as the Greeks were the first to assign to reason a place in thought and conduct such as no society had done before, the Jews were the first to build their whole life around their belief in one God, and to base their thought, ethics, law, and government on this belief.

The practical expression of thought in action is central in classical Judaism. Had the Jewish contribution been confined to an original discovery in religion as a philosophical exercise, its impact on western civilization would have been temporary. But Jewish belief in one God was reflected in a moral code that remains the foundation of western law and ethics. Whereas the supreme Greek ideal was to think clearly, the supreme Jewish aspiration was to act justly.

The third western root is the Christian conception of love. Christianity incorporated Greek rationalism and absorbed Jewish monotheistic ethics, and added a new dimension that went beyond both: the principle of love as the basis of people’s relation with God, and, more importantly, each other.

Once again, the point can be made that Greek thought and life put a great value on “sympathy” (a Greek word meaning “to feel with”) and friendship, the latter considered by Aristotle, for example, to be the basis of all social and political organizations, The Greeks were intensely interested in love; Plato’s dialogue Symposium is one of the great conversations on love in world literature. Yet love in the Symposium is primarily the mutual embrace of two souls soaring together to the heights of perfection in the life of reason. On a lower level, love was seen by the Greeks as a fierce demon, something approaching madness. Similarly, classical Jewish thought emphasizes compassion and charity, and admonishes its adherents to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” But neither the Greek nor the Jewish conception of love has the unconditional, universal character of Christian love. In Christian thought, love is not in the periphery of life, in the rare moments of ecstasy, but in the center of life: Love is life itself.

The three roots of western life – Greek rationalism, Jewish monotheism, and Christian love – are so encompassing that it is difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific social, economical, or political systems from them. Both the Old and New Testaments have been invoked to justify slavery and human freedom, obedience to government and revolution, democracy and monarchy, and capitalism and socialism, to mention but a few. Similarly, Greek rationalism has been appealed to in support of authoritarianism and liberalism, the planned economy and free enterprise, censorship and freedom of thought, and many other contradictory political and philosophical systems.

These contradictions have two causes. First, the conceptions of Greek rationalism , Jewish monotheism, and Christian love have never fully been lived up to in the western world. They have served as guiding ideals, but practice has often lagged behind the ideals. Second (and a reason which is often overlooked), these three sources of western thought are not completely complementary. There has always been a tension – though not irreconcilable – between the three elements, a pressure which has been both painful and fruitful. In antiquity itself, for example, Greeks and Jews were not overly fond of one another. To the ancient Greek, the ancient Jew was a fanatical puritan, living by a strict code that knew of no concessions to human frailty or levity. To the Jew, the Greek – with all his theorizing and endless philosophizing – was an ethical barbarian, whose gods indulged in debaucheries worse than world be tolerated among the lowest sinners in Israel.

Similarly, there is the tension between Christianity on the one side and Greek and Jewish ideals on the other. Christianity is not the mechanical merger of Greek and Jewish ideals, but an attempt to transcend them with something new and different; this process of “going beyond” Greek and Jewish ideals inevitably produced spiritual distances, gaps, stresses. At their worst, these tensions resulted in the burning of “pagan” Greek and Roman books by Christian priests and zealots in the early Middle Ages, or in Christian persecutions of Jews at various times. At their best, tensions between Christianity and its Greek and Jewish antecedents have been harmonized in exceptional persons like Albert Schweitzer. His example testifies that it is possible to unite in one life the three Greco-Judeo-Christian ideals of reason, ethics and love. As a scholar-philosopher-artist, he would have been completely at home if he had been suddenly transported to fifth-century Athens; his conviction that moral belief must be expressed here and now in action that knows no allegiance other than God places him in the central tradition of Judaism; his choice to work among the poorest of humanity places him among the great Christians of all time.

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Israel’s Settlers Are Here to Stay

From Dani Dayan’s recent NYTimes article:

WHATEVER word you use to describe Israel’s 1967 acquisition of Judea and Samaria — commonly referred to as the West Bank in these pages — will not change the historical facts. Arabs called for Israel’s annihilation in 1967, and Israel legitimately seized the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria in self-defense. Israel’s moral claim to these territories, and the right of Israelis to call them home today, is therefore unassailable. Giving up this land in the name of a hallowed two-state solution would mean rewarding those who’ve historically sought to destroy Israel, a manifestly immoral outcome.

You can read the rest of the article here. A very good article.

Wishing all my readers a meaningful Tisha B’Av. May we continue to rebuild that which was destroyed and more.

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How the Danish Treat Peaceful Protesters

This video is just embarrassing and just saddens me even more that Lt. Col. Shalom Eisner was suspended from his position for two years due to hitting a protestor once in the face with a gun to end an illegal protest that intended to block an Israeli motorway.

Israel was made to look bad, had to apologise to Denmark, but have a look at some of these videos as to how peaceful protestors are dealt with in other countries.

This is how they treat peaceful protestors in Denmark:

And this is how they treat peaceful, university students that protest in America (that’s pepper spray they’re using):

The point of this post is not to make America or Denmark look bad. Just that people have overreacted to the Eisner incident and that many people have double-standards, one for Israel and one for the rest of the world.

The truth is that I also have double standards. Israel should be expected to act to a higher standard than any other country in the Middle East, Western world or anywhere else. Israel is supposed to be a light unto the nations, so I expect more from my country and it lives up to those standards. Sometimes we go too far though. If violent flotilla activists get killed, it’s sad, but it’s their fault and we shouldn’t be apologising (and on that occasion we didn’t). We shouldn’t have apologised for Eisner hitting a protestor in the face, especially after his finger was broken by the activist. Eisner was merely doing his job.

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